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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Tetsuya Honda- The Silent Dead

Untitled%201When a mutilated body wrapped in a blue tarpaulin is found in a quiet neighbourhood, Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa and her squad are assigned the case. As the youngest female detective in the Homicide Division, Reiko has a lot to prove, but she has an undeniable ability to solve crimes. When she uncovers more murders with the same signature, she knows there is a serial killer at work. What is Strawberry Night, the dark web group that links all the victims? And how long will Reiko survive, now the killer knows her name?

I will put my hands up straightaway and confess that my prior reading, and knowledge of, Japanese crime fiction is rudimentary at best, so please forgive any noticeable faux pas’ or misunderstandings on my part of the genre. So here we have Raven’s first introduction into this potentially interesting subgenre of crime fiction writing…

Shining a light into the contemporary sinister recesses of the dark web, The Silent Dead, is the first of Honda’s ongoing crime series featuring Reiko Himekawa, a Homicide Detective with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. In common with the best socially driven crime fiction,  Himekawa is a female detective in an extremely patriarchal institution, and much of the book focuses on not only her as a woman with an emotionally fractured past, but the attitude displayed to her by her male counterparts within the police force. Indeed, this examination of Himekawa, and by extension, her role in this testosterone-fuelled world was central to my enjoyment of the book. Hence, the latent and overt sexism she experiences by word and deed, and her critical self-examination throughout the book, moulds her into one of the most compelling and real female characters I have encountered for some time.

I like the way she continually questions the noble intentions of her chosen career, but yet is self aware enough to realise that this success has made her arrogant in some respects to her relationship with the victims she encounters. I also enjoyed the way Honda stretches and exerts pressure on her to continually reassess her sense of self, as the story develops, and her realisation that she is  prone to moments of weakness, despite her seemingly cast iron intention to overcome the emotional and physical damage caused by a crime in her own past. She is surrounded by a mixed cast of male characters who exhibit contrasting attitudes to Himekawa which range from dislike, to mild flirtation, to professional jealousy, and the casual sexism that defines most of them gives rise to a mixture of feelings in the reader, and toys with our empathies. Equally, I liked Honda’s depiction of the professional and territorial rivalries that exist between the competing police units that spilled over into Himekawa’s investigation, and the attitudes of her counterparts outside her own Metropolitan police department, to her and her team of murder detectives.

The plot is compelling, and there is a killer twist- quite literally- at the close of the book which was wonderfully disguised up to that point. The examination of the dark web and the way that even the most ordinary citizen can be drawn into, and excited by, public execution was a consistent theme in the book as the body count mounted exponentially. So many serial killer thrillers fall victim to obvious tropes within the genre, but this book in common with the best, provided some thoughtful and genuinely intuitive psychological insights into the killer gene that may lurk within us all, and what drives seemingly ordinary people to derive pleasure from violence.

With such  strength in the characterisation, narrative and plot, it does feel a shame to draw attention to the one weakness in the book, which is no criticism of the author. There is a noticeable flaw in the translation of the dialogue, which has the snappy rhythm typical of the American crime fiction genre, but seemed quaintly old-fashioned in some of the turns of phrase used. Indeed, at certain points I felt I had wandered into the black and white world of Dixon of Dock Green, where I expected characters to be all ‘Cor, lummy’ and ‘You’re nicked’. Some of the expressions used just felt a little disingenuous and out of place, but I think this more a consequence of the translation itself than the author’s original intention.

So all in all my first dip into Japanese crime fiction was an extremely pleasurable one, though not without a minor flaw. Loved the characters, the tight plotting, and the playing out of a visceral and psychologically interesting dimension to what could have been just a standard addition to the serial killer thriller genre. Will certainly be seeking out not only more of the books in this series, but this has also sparked my interest in further exploring this crime sub-genre generally. Recommended.

(With thanks to Titan Books for the ARC)

William Shaw- The Birdwatcher

images1Police Sergeant William South has a reason for not wanting to be on the murder investigation.

He is a murderer himself.

But the victim was his only friend; like him, a passionate birdwatcher. South is warily partnered with the strong-willed Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly recruited to the Kent coast from London. Together they find the body, violently beaten, forced inside a wooden chest. Only rage could kill a man like this. South knows it. But soon – too soon – they find a suspect: Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland. His presence in Kent disturbs William – because he knew him as a boy. If the past is catching up with him, South wants to meet it head on. For even as he desperately investigates the connections, he knows there is no crime, however duplicitous or cruel, that can compare to the great lie of his childhood…

With a notable change of pace, period and location from his 1960’s set trilogy- A Song From Dead Lips  , A House Of Knives,  , and A Book of Scars  – William Shaw transports us in this haunting standalone to the desolate beauty of the Kent coast, and a tale that reverberates with the dark echoes of the past…

I should say from the outset that this book encapsulates the very best of European crime fiction in terms of pace, characterisation and location, drawing on the most recognisable elements of Scandinavian noir with its bleak location, sublimely controlled plotting, and the emotional but strikingly underplayed turmoil that Shaw injects into his central characters. Indeed the mantra of ‘location, location’ is the key element to Shaw’s beautiful mirroring effect of the sparse, wild nature of this area reflecting the feeling of emotional barrenness that lies within the psyches of his characters, and also draws an interesting juxtaposition between the natural freedom of the proliferation of the coastal bird community and the hemmed in feel of his characters’ existences.  Personal isolation looms large not only in his main protagonist, William South for reasons that are slowly revealed during the course of the book, but also to a certain degree in DS Cupidi, following her relocation to the area. As much as South struggles with the ghosts of the past coming back to haunt him, Cupidi is seeking to make her mark in this investigation as the new face on the squad, and there is an intuitive use of her daughter, Zoe, to provide South with a path back to normal human interaction that he has so solidly distanced himself from outside of his professional career. I loved the interplay and shifting dynamic between these three characters, albeit with some hard decisions arising from their interactions, and the way that the slowly unfurling trust between them comes to be so sorely tested. This careful manipulation of human emotion, and finding connections, is a real strength of all of Shaw’s books to date, and I would say that this book is no exception to this real craft in his writing.

In the same way as Scandinavian authors so routinely return to reference the Second World War, Shaw uses the Irish upbringing of his central protagonist, Police Sergeant William South to provide this gravitational axis to conflicts of the past. I’m always interested in the way that the past dictates and shapes our present and future actions, and whether an individual can truly escape darker periods of their life. In the story of South we see an individual who has laboured under this shadow for many years, and Shaw beautifully controls the gradual reveal of the more shadowy and violent previous life. I found it interesting that Shaw had then cast South in the role of protector and policeman, and the sharp contrast this reveals between his younger and older self, which added a certain frisson to the story overall. It goes without saying that this also serves well in manipulating the empathy of the reader, and if,  like me,  the psychological quirks and anomalies of protagonists is a real draw in your crime fiction reading this will serve you well. Once again Shaw has produced, in my opinion, an exceptionally perceptive and sensitive crime novel, that raises as many questions on human nature and redemption as it answers. Intelligent and thought provoking.

(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

Guest Post-William Shaw- #TheBirdwatcher

dungeness-3

To mark the release of William Shaw’s new thriller The Birdwatcher, here is a guest post by the very man himself on the rare beauty of Dungeness, a unique and bleak setting indeed…

“I was looking for a house. Not to buy, you understand, but to kill someone in.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 16_36_55These days, Google Street View is a good place to start. Writers probably use it more than they’d admit to, but where I was looking, there was no Street View. In Dungeness, the roads peter out into tracks and the Google car doesn’t bother with going off road. Maybe it’s too remote. Or maybe it’s because the track runs alongside a nuclear power station, considered a terrorist security risk, and they don’t want you knowing too much about what it looks like there.

It had all started with the location. Quite why I chose Dungeness, I honestly can’t remember. It’s a bleak, ominous landscape. I think the first time I’d gone there was for the ash-scattering ceremony of a friend, which was probably something to do with it. A sense that not everything that happens here is good. But if, as plenty of writers say, location is a character, then Dungeness was a place with plenty of it.

DSCN9674The location began to shape the material. Even though the Met Office classify these 12 square miles of shingle jutting out into the channel as a desert, in fact this apparently desolate place is teeming with wildlife. And birds too. Amongst birdwatchers, this was a legendary location. I discovered that Dungeness Bird Observatory was set up here by a group of enthusiasts in 1952. Nearby among the old pits extracted for gravel and stones, now filled with water, the RSPB established what is their very first bird reserve.

So with the location, my central character became a birdwatcher. As I’m not a birder myself, that wasn’t easy. I researched. I began to like birders. They were dedicated people, patient, with their own way of seeing the world. A plot began to evolve. And now all I needed was my murder house. So, about a year ago, I drove there from Brighton and parked by the pub known as The Pilot – another legendary location for birders, it turned out. It’s here they argue about their sightings after a long day on the shingle.

The house was easy to find. Within only a few yards of walking it was there, right next to the barbed-wire fence that reads, ‘Nuclear Installations Act 1965 Licensed Site Boundary’. A small, weathered bungalow, set apart from all the other clusters of huts and homes. Dungeness is full of these shacks, originally built by outsiders or railway workers. Now a lot of them are owned by millionaires, or wealthy would-be artists. Not this one though. Here the cladding was in need of another coat of paint. Two gables formed a simple M shape. A fishing boat sat on a trailer to the right of the small track that led up to it. The windows were all shuttered or curtained.

Perfect.”

images1Police Sergeant William South has a reason for not wanting to be on the murder investigation. He is a murderer himself. But the victim was his only friend; like him, a passionate birdwatcher. South is warily partnered with the strong-willed Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly recruited to the Kent coast from London. Together they find the body, violently beaten, forced inside a wooden chest. Only rage could kill a man like this. South knows it. But soon – too soon – they find a suspect: Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland. His presence in Kent disturbs William – because he knew him as a boy. If the past is catching up with him, South wants to meet it head on. For even as he desperately investigates the connections, he knows there is no crime, however duplicitous or cruel, that can compare to the great lie of his childhood…

The Birdwatcher is out now- published by Riverrun

Raven`s review to follow…

Blog Tour- Steve Cavanagh- #ThePlea (Eddie Flynn 2)

the-plea

When David Child, a major client of a corrupt New York law firm, is arrested for murder, the FBI ask con-artist-turned-lawyer Eddie Flynn to secure Child as his client and force him to testify against the firm. Eddie’s not a man to be coerced into representing a guilty client, but the FBI have incriminating files on Eddie’s wife, and if Eddie won’t play ball, she’ll pay the price. When Eddie meets Child he’s convinced the man is innocent, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. With the FBI putting pressure on him to secure the plea, Eddie must find a way to prove Child’s innocence while keeping his wife out of danger – not just from the FBI, but from the firm itself…

The opening of my review for Steve Cavanagh’s first book, The Defence was a general moan-fest about my own personal aversion to legal thrillers, which was turned on its head completely by how much I loved this debut. Admittedly I’ve not picked up another legal thriller since, as I have been saving myself, metaphorically speaking, for this one, the next outing for a certain shady lawyer by the name of Mr Eddie Flynn…

Once again our smart talking, quick witted and fast thinking lawyer Flynn is again in a whole heap of trouble, reluctantly coerced into defending a rich, timid techno geek on a trumped up murder charge, and seeking to bring down a powerful and inherently corrupt law firm, with his wife’s liberty hanging in the balance. That is the seemingly simple premise of what turns out to be a meticulously plotted, exciting, and chew-your-fingernails-down-to-the-quick thriller, with more twists in the tale, and moments of jaw dropping tension that you can possibly imagine. A late night of reading beckons my friends. Cavanagh’s control and pace of each strand and curve in the plot is meticulous in its execution, leading the reader to find it incredibly difficult to find a natural break in the book to attend the other small matters of life, work and family. To sustain the amount of tension and some real high octane moments of not an inconsiderable page count is further testament to the skill of Cavanagh’s writing. The story pivots effortlessly from the taut courtroom scenes to the violent episodes that occur in Flynn’s out of court investigation to clear Child’s name and to bring down the sinister and corrupt law firm of Harlan and Sinton, with the overbearing pressure of government agents seeking to dictate his every move. The dialogue is crisp, sharp and precise throughout, working perfectly in tandem with the tension of the book overall.

The characterisation is terrific throughout, aside from the slightly rumpled but always on the ball Flynn, drawing on his family heritage of con artists to bob and weave his way through what seems an impossible task, to his stalwart accomplice the sinister Lizard, and his innocent and all-at-sea client David Child with his limited social skills but razor sharp brain. Set against the ‘goodies’ are a splendid crew of baddies (cue pantomime hissing) and a few characters that turn out to be a marvellous mix of both. As much as Flynn adroitly displays his legal largesse, the devilish machinations of the aforementioned thwart his every move, leading to tense car chases, physical violence and more moments of peril than you can shake the proverbial stick at. Another enjoyable element of the book is the way that Cavanagh can both inform and entertain the reader through the perplexing world of the American justice system through Flynn’s courtroom face offs with the odious District Attorney Zader. and this makes for some excellent snippy exchanges, and the battle of legal intellects.

Admittedly there are a few  plot contrivances to drive the action forward that require a wee bit of suspension of disbelief, but this is just a real put-up-your-feet and enjoy the ride thriller. Go with it, and make time in your summer reading for this little corker. Highly recommended.

 

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast and is a practicing lawyer and holds a certificate in Advanced Advocacy. He is married with two young children. The Defence, has been chosen as one of Amazon’s great debuts for 2015, as part of their Amazon Rising Stars programme. In 2015 Steve received the ACES award for Literature from the Northern Ireland Arts Council. The Defence was longlisted for the Crime Writer’s Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and shortlisted for two Dead Good Readers Awards.  Steve writes fast-paced legal thrillers set in New York City featuring series character Eddie Flynn. The Defence is his first novel. The Plea is published 19.5.16. Visit the author’s website  here or follow  on Twitter @SSCav

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

 

Blog Tour- J M Gulvin- #TheLongCount: A John Q Mystery

517UlM8qrSL__SX325_BO1,204,203,200_It’s a pleasure to be taking part in this blog tour marking the release of J. M. Gulvin’s The Long Count, the first of a series featuring Texas Ranger, John Quarrie…

Ranger John Quarrie is called to the scene of an apparent suicide by a fellow war veteran. Although the local police want the case shut down, John Q is convinced that events aren’t quite so straightforward. When his hunch is backed up by the man’s son, Isaac – just back from Vietnam, and convinced his father was murdered – they start to look into a series of other violent incidents in the area, including a recent fire at the local Trinity Asylum and the disappearance of Isaac’s twin brother, Ishmael. In a desperate race against time, John Q has to try and unravel the dark secrets at the heart of this family and get to the truth before the count is up…

With comparisons to Shutter Island and True Detective, my expectations were high for this first outing featuring Texas Ranger John Q. From the very outset of the book Gulvin completely immerses the reader in this particular era of the 1970’s with the reverberations of the Vietnam War playing through the book, and an atmospheric depiction of the sprawling location of Texas. The opening chapter with a real sit up and take notice incident is an absolute corker, that instantly grabs the reader’s attention, and sets the pulse a racing for what is to follow. I loved the sharp cutaway and the instant change of pace in the second chapter, this being the first introduction into the personal world of our erstwhile hero Quarrie. This is a change of rhythm and pace that Gulvin fluctuates between throughout the book, thus ensuring that the more violent aspects of the plot work perfectly in tandem with the more emotional and heart-wrenching interludes, keeping the reader slightly on the back foot, and playing with our responses to the narrative as a whole.

By extension these changes of pace seem to echo in Gulvin’s characterisation throughout the book, and seldom do I encounter a book where every single protagonist- irrespective of how long they appear in the book, or the size of the part they play- are so clearly fleshed out. Quarrie is a man with two personas, as a single father with a young son, James, never happier than in the lively company of James or his Korean War buddy Pious, just shooting the breeze or in his professional status as a dedicated and dogged Texas Ranger. The background story to the loss of his wife never resorts to mawkishness, and in a side plot with James and Pious investigating the history of a train crash in a local river, the real excitement in James’ enthusiasm for his own mystery to investigate comes shining through. This side narrative provides moments of light as Quarrie’s own case finds him drawn into a world of psychological darkness, evinced by the unsettling goings-on at a mental asylum, with a vendetta being waged against those who work there, and the dark personal history of a family with connections to it. The character of Isaac, whose father’s suspicious death is a real lynchpin of the book, is also incredibly well drawn, and as the story develops there are further revelations about himself and the bounds of loyalty his family, in particular his twin brother Ishamel, that hold more than a few surprises…

Gulvin builds the tension of Quarrie’s investigation perfectly, and trying hard to avoid spoilers, there is a real emotional intensity and pathos to this story as Quarrie is drawn into the world of the asylum and those that dwell within it. Obviously being set around forty years in the past, Gulvin engages the reader’s interest further by highlighting what now seem archaic and cruel treatment methods for those with mental disturbance, and drawing on both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts to add weight to the psychological depth of the book. Nothing makes my heart sing more than a book that rises above the commonplace labels of generic crime fiction, and an author that so perfectly insinuates deeper themes, and a well-realised sense of place and history into their work. J M Gulvin has achieved this admirably. Highly recommended.

Born in the UK, JM Gulvin divides his time between Wales and the western United States. He is the author of many previous novels, as well as Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s bestselling travel book Long Way Down. The Long Count is his first John Q mystery and he is currently at work on the follow up. Follow on Twitter @jmgulvin

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with, or follow the rest of the tour at these excellent sites…

long count use this one

T.F Muir- #BloodTorment Blog Tour- Exclusive Extract

9781472121165To mark the publication of T F Muir’s Blood Torment featuring DCI Andy Gilchrist and set in St Andrews, Scotland, here’s an exclusive extract of the book to tempt you further into this excellent series…

When a three-year old girl is reported missing, DCI Andy Gilchrist is assigned the case. But Gilchrist soon suspects that the child’s mother – Andrea Davis – may be responsible for her daughter’s disappearance, or worse, her murder. The case becomes politically sensitive when Gilchrist learns that Andrea is the daughter of Dougal Davis, a former MSP who was forced to resign from Scottish Parliament after being accused of physically abusing his third wife.

Now a powerful businessman, Davis demands Gilchrist’s removal from the case when his investigation seems to be stalling. But then the case turns on its head when Gilchrist learns that a paedophile, recently released from prison, now lives in the same area as the missing child. The paedophile is interrogated but hours later his body is found on the beach with evidence of blunt force trauma to the head, and Gilchrist launches a murder investigation.

As pressure relentlessly mounts on Gilchrist, he begins to unravel a dark family secret, a secret he believes will solve the fate of the missing child…

EXTRACT:

7.18 a.m., Monday, mid-April

Fisherman’s Cottage

Crail, Fife

DCI Andy Gilchrist had just taken his first mouthful of sliced mango when his mobile rang – ID Jessie. ‘Morning, Jessie. Hungover, are we?’

‘Is that the pot nipping the kettle?’

He was indeed feeling a tad tender. Impromptu celebrations and a one-for-the-road deoch an dorus – or was it three? – in The Central had that effect on him now, but he said, ‘Never felt better.’

‘Cross your heart and hope to die? And I don’t think. Listen,’ she said, ‘I’ve just caught a message being passed out on the radio from Control. We’ve got a Grade 1 priority. Missing child. Katie Davis. Two years old. Mother put her to bed last night, checked on her this morning, and she was gone. Mother’s never married. Lives by herself.’

‘Name?’

‘Andrea Davis.’

The name meant nothing to him. ‘Who’s the father? Do we know where he is?’

‘Don’t know to both questions. But I’ll get on to that. The Duty Inspector’s getting a dog handler over to the house as soon as. Grange Road. You know it?’

‘Branches off before the Kinkell Brae?’

‘That’s it.’

Gilchrist pushed his fruit to the side. ‘Address?’

‘Grange Mansion.’

‘Mansion?’

‘Yeah. She’s well to do, by the sounds of it. Which might be a motive for kidnap. But there’s no ransom note. Nothing.’

‘That could come later.’

‘I phoned the Duty Inspector,’ Jessie said, her voice rushing, ‘and asked her to check ViSOR for any RSOs in close proximity.’

The Violent and Sex Offender Register was a police system that kept tabs on RSOs – Registered Sex Offenders. From the rush in Jessie’s voice, Gilchrist suspected they had their fi rst solid lead.

‘Keep going,’ he said.

‘A nasty paedo by the name of Sammie Bell moved into the area about three weeks ago.’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘Doesn’t ring a bell, you mean?’

‘Very funny.’

‘He’s just moved back from London.’

‘Back?’ he said. ‘So he used to live here?’

‘Family home’s in Crail. Not too far from where you live. Parents dead. No siblings. Mother passed away last month, which might explain why he’s returned.’

‘To claim his inheritance?’

‘Got it in one.’

‘Address?’

Jessie gave it to him. Anstruther Road ran south from Westgate on the outskirts of Crail, and was bounded by some nice property. ‘Find out what you can on Bell, and get back to me.’

‘Want me to pick you up?’

‘I’ll meet you there.’

——————————————————————————————————-

Born in Glasgow, T. F. Muir was plagued from a young age with the urge to see more of the world than the rain sodden slopes of the Campsie Fells. By the time he graduated from University with a degree he hated, he’d already had more jobs than the River Clyde has bends. Short stints as a lumberjack in the Scottish Highlands and a moulder’s labourer in the local foundry convinced Muir that his degree was not such a bad idea after all. Twenty-five years of working overseas helped him appreciate the raw beauty of his home country. Now a dual US/UK citizen, Muir divides his time between Richmond, Virginia, and Glasgow, Scotland, carrying out research in the local pubs and restaurants. Frank is currently doing some serious book research in St Andrews’ local pubs, and working on his next novel, another crime story suffused with dark alleyways and cobbled streets and some things gruesome. Visit the author’s website here Follow on Twitter @FrankMuirAuthor

#ARisingMan Blog Tour- Abir Mukherjee- Guest Post- 5 Books That Inspired Me + Review

Abir Mukherjee c_ Nick Tucker MAIN PHOTOA RISING MANDelighted to be taking part in a special blog tour marking the release of Abir Mukherjee’s masterly Calcutta set debut A Rising Man, the writing of which led to him winning the Telegraph Harvill Secker Crime Writing Competition. Here’s Abir on the 5 books that have inspired him as a writer, and influenced him to put pen to paper…

 

1Doors Open – Ian Rankin

I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin and have read all of the Rebus books. However it’s one of his stand-alone books, Doors Open, which is one of the novels that inspired me to write. It tells of how a gang of ordinary guys (albeit one of them is a millionaire) set out to steal a number of paintings. The plot is inspired and the twist in the tale is fantastic. In many ways, it’s the perfect crime. I rather hoped Mr Rankin would write a sequel to it, but he hasn’t yet.

 

11A Quiet Flame – Philip Kerr

As with Ian Rankin’s work, I will read pretty much everything Philip Kerr produces. I think his character, Bernie Gunther, an investigator in Nazi Germany and in the post war period, is a brilliant creation. I love novels with an ambiguous, conflicted protagonist, and for me, Bernie Gunther is the gold standard. All of the Gunther novels are excellent and I’ve been hooked since I picked up his Berlin Noir Trilogy about ten years ago. My favourite to date, though, has been A Quiet Flame, in which Bernie finds himself in post war Argentina, alongside a bunch of unsavoury characters including Adolf Eichmann. Bernie is tasked with hunting down a serial killer targeting young girls in a method very similar to another crime he investigated back in Berlin.

 

111Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith

To me this book is a classic. It is the first of Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, and still my favourite. Set in the late Cold War period, Renko is chief investigator for the Moscow Militsiya, who is assigned to a case involving three corpses found in Gorky Park, who have had their faces and fingertips cut off by the murderer to prevent identification. I first read this book when I was still at school and I thought it was brilliant. It’s the novel that first piqued my interest in the sub-genre of good detectives upholding a corrupt system, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read several times.

 

1111The Byomkesh Bakshi stories – Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay

Not so much any one book, but a whole series of stories this time. Byomkesh Bakshi is an Indian detective created in the 1930s by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Byomkesh is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, though he prefers the term ‘Seeker of Truth’ to ‘detective’. The stories are set in Calcutta and have been Indian favourites for generations.

 

11111Killing Floor – Lee Child

More than anyone else, it was Lee Child who inspired me to write. I was running late one morning and caught an interview with Lee Child on breakfast TV. He recounted how, having never really written before, he’d started writing at the age of forty. I’d never read any of his work till then, but I went out that day and bought a copy of his first book, Killing Floor, and devoured it within forty-eight hours. I was amazed at how simply written and well plotted it was. I’d recently had an idea for a story centred on a British detective who travels to India after the First World War, and reading Killing Floor gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.


Raven’s Review

A RISING MAN“1919. Calcutta. Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. But with barely a moment to acclimatize to his new life or to deal with the ghosts which still haunt him, Wyndham is caught up in a murder investigation that will take him into the dark underbelly of the British Raj. A senior official has been murdered, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India: or else. With rising political dissent and the stability of the Raj under threat, Wyndham and his two new colleagues – arrogant Inspector Digby and British-educated, but Indian-born Sergeant Banerjee, one of the few Indians to be recruited into the new CID – embark on an investigation that will take them from the luxurious parlours of wealthy British traders to the seedy opium dens of the city.”

From the very beginning with its wonderfully Chandler-esque opening line, “At least he was well dressed. Black tie, tux, the works. If you’re going to get yourself killed, you may as well look your best,” I was totally in the thrall of this book from start to finish. Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire sings from every page. I always think that historically drawn fiction treads a difficult line between force feeding the reader too much factual detail, or being too sketchy on how well it integrates the historical aspect which then doesn’t draw the reader into the reality of the period. Not only does Mukherjee present Calcutta and its social and political tensions with such clarity of detail, and the heinous crimes perpetrated by the British at Amritsar, but he also weaves into the story the echoing resonance of the trauma of WWI in the characterisation of his main protagonist Captain Sam Wyndham.

I liked the way that these momentous moments in history were brought centre stage at times, but then also cleverly just playing out in the background against the murder investigation adding a sense of the ebb and flow to the story and keeping the reader’s interest throughout. I also enjoyed the way that the interactions between the main characters and their responses to one another added another dimension to the difference in their societal position or racial status again reflecting the tensions of the time. This is very much in evidence by not only Wyndham’s experience as an ‘incomer’ to India, and the barriers to his investigation that he experiences, but also in his own interactions with his fellow Englishman, the prickly Inspector Digby, and the delightful Sergeant Banerjee. The interplay between these three incredibly disparate men was a source of pleasure throughout the book, and the development of their differing relationships, both personally and professionally, gave a further emotional pull on the reader’s empathy to these characters. Wyndham is a particularly complex man with previous trauma, and the loss of the love of his life, placing its own unique strain on his psyche. However, despite his insomnia and wavering dependence on chemical pick-me-ups, what Mukherjee so assuredly shows is Wyndham’s singular integrity as a man, his open mindedness, and his ability to place himself apart from his compatriots in order to fully investigate this case, finding his way in an alien and corrupt society.

So, A Rising Man, bulging with beautifully controlled historical detail, the atmospheric backdrop of Calcutta, a twisting and dangerous murder investigation, and a wonderfully drawn cast of characters, did not disappoint in the slightest. A strong contender for my top 5 of the year, and a completely absorbing, and thoroughly enjoyable debut. Highly recommended.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee is published by Harvill Secker on 5 May 2016 (priced £12.99)

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April 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)A much more productive month on the reading front and I have also stolen a march on May, pre-reading some cracking new releases. That’s good.

However, with such a frenetic pace of reading, trying to get ahead of myself, I kind of lost sight of reviewing the April titles too. That’s bad.

There were also a couple of titles that I’ve deliberately avoided reviewing as I just wanted to read them for pleasure, and not have to pick them apart too much for reviewing purposes. However, with this round-up affording me an opportunity to tidy up a few loose ends let’s crack on, and clear those decks shall we? May is going to be a busy month with blog tours aplenty, a plethora of brilliant crime releases, and the Raven’s attendance at a certain little crime shindig in Bristol….

Books read and reviewed:

David Jackson-  A Tapping At My Door

Annemarie Neary- Siren

Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night

Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City

Also read…

dodWhen East, a low-level lookout for a Los Angeles drug organisation, loses his watch house in a police raid, his boss recruits him for a very different job: a road trip straight down the middle of white, rural America to assassinate a judge in Wisconsin. Having no choice, East and a crew of untested boys including his trigger-happy younger brother, Ty, leave the only home they’ve ever known in a nondescript blue van, with a roll of cash, a map and a gun they shouldn’t have. Along the way, the country surprises East. The blood on his hands isn’t the blood he expects. And he reaches places where only he can decide which way to go or which person to become.

Widely billed as The Wire crossed with road trip movie, I think that this book actually defies the simplicity of this description. In the character of gang member East, who was the absolute stand out for me, Beverly has created something really quite special. This is a bildungsroman for the modern age, with East in particular embracing the possibilities of life outside of the tough LA neighbourhood he inhabits, and the lawless life he leads. As the book progresses and his cohorts fall by the wayside on their cross country mission to murder a trial witness, I found the exploration and growth of East’s character spellbinding throughout. Unlike other reviewers, who bemoan the slower pace of the second half of the book, I thought this worked perfectly, and gave Beverly total reign to explore and describe not only the changes within East, but also aligning these developments in juxtaposition with the new landscape and way of life he undertakes- the urban versus the rural. The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers. An absolute gem and highly recommended.

motherToday, Marcia is heading to the Old Bailey. She’s going there to do something no mother should ever have to do: to attend the trial of the boy accused of her son’s murder. She’s not meant to be that woman; Ryan, her son, wasn’t that kind of boy. But Tyson Manley is that kind of a boy and, as his trial unfolds, it becomes clear that it’s his girlfriend Sweetie who has the answers Marcia so badly needs and who can – perhaps – offer Marcia some kind of hope for the future. But Sweetie is as scared of Tyson as Ryan should have been and, as Marcia’s learned the hard way, nothing’s certain. Not any more.

Categorized as fiction, but following one family’s experience in the aftermath of a heartbreaking crime, The Mother is the second book from Edwards, author of the much lauded A Cupboard Full of Coats. What I loved about this book was the symbiotic balance of the raw, unflinching emotion of a family torn apart by the death of a loved one, set against the remorseless impassivity of both the legal process they must endure, and the perpetrator they face in the courtroom. Edwards takes the reader from one to another with consummate ease, making the heartrending grief of Ryan’s parents, Marcia and Lloydie, and the fissure it has caused in their relationship, all the more poignant against the sterile coldness of the court procedures that Marcia in particular witnesses as the case progresses. Equally, Edwards has a highly attuned ear for, and sharp recognition of, the world of Ryan’s peers, and the insidious grasp of gang culture in the inner city. This comes to the fore in her characterisation of Sweetie, a young girl who is caught between the studious and respectable world of Ryan, and the forced allegiance she has to the local gang. This is a hard-hitting and socially intuitive novel that is ultimately both an emotional and thought-provoking must read. Recommended.

 

poeeeeSummer, 1840. Edgar Allan Poe arrives in London to meet his friend C. Auguste Dupin, in the hope that the great detective will help him solve a family mystery. For Poe has inherited a mahogany box containing sheathes of letters that implicate his grandparents in some of London’s most heinous and scandalous crimes – those committed by the so-called London Monster who, for two years, terrorized the city’s streets, stalking attractive, well-to-do young women, slicing their clothing and their derrières. Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to accept that his grandparents – actors who struggled to make a living on the London stage – led a clandestine and nefarious double life, Poe and Dupin set out to prove the missives forgeries. But as they delve deeper into the city’s secrets, and past horrors emerge, they start to suspect that they too are being watched and preyed upon. And if they are, might their stalkers be connected to the London Monster?

With my nom de plume and love of Mr Poe how could I resist this one? Despite my usual hesitation in reading historical crime fiction, I though this was marvellous. Clever, knowing, witty,  and wonderfully researched with not only its reimaging of the salient details of Poe’s life, but also the repositioning of Poe’s relationship with his finest creation Dupin, banding together into a pretty damn effective detective team. Their are tricks, hints and allusions to Poe’s literary oeuvre, which add a layer of reader participation as the book progresses- no, I don’t think I spotted them all- and the use of the infamous real life case of the London Monster adds another layer of interest to the book. It’s beautifully constructed, alive with the feel of the period, and all the darkness, violence and treachery one would expect of any case involving Poe. An intelligent literary crime thriller that will keep you guessing throughout. Recommended.

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

Taking into account the books from both March and April, the Raven has decided to award two books as the stand out reads over this period. I will give very, very, honourable mentions to Annemarie Neary- Siren, Yusuf Toropov-Jihadi, David Jackson- A Tapping At My Door and M. P. Wright- All Through The Night for providing unabated reading pleasure as they were all inherently different, and pushed my buttons in different ways.

However, the two books that have so firmly remained with me since reading, and which I’m still thinking about in the wake of reading them are….drumroll…. these two exceptional reads- Katie Medina- Fire Damage and Bill Beverly- Dodgers The Raven highly recommends both!

medina   dod

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City- Review

Sunset cityTwenty-two-year-old Charlotte Ford reconnects with Danielle, her best friend from high school, a few days before Danielle is found bludgeoned to death in a motel room. In the wake of the murder, Charlotte’s life unravels and she descends into the city’s underbelly, where she meets the strippers, pornographers and drug dealers who surrounded Danielle in the years they were estranged…

Billed as ‘taut, erotically charged literary noir’, Sunset City pretty much ticks all these boxes, and in common with the brilliant  Cracked by Barbra Leslie, explores the life of a damaged young woman in an impersonal and isolating metropolis, in this case Houston. Through her first person narrative, we observe Charlotte immersing herself totally in the life of her murdered friend Danielle, to uncover the truth behind her death, and drawing her into maelstrom of danger and jealousy. Fans of edgy, slight and sexy crime fiction in the style of Megan Abbott will love this. There’s a good development of Charlotte’s character as she navigates the underbelly of Houston life, encountering the less savoury characters that Danielle has been associating with, and drawing the reader in to a hazy world of drugs and sex, that are graphically explored in the course of the book.

This is another incredibly female-centric novel with much time expended on developing their characters, and very little development of the male protagonists, who again begin to conform to stereotype, although one or two of them would have been more interesting if they had been fleshed out a bit more. I liked the portrayal of Charlotte and Danielle’s relationship and the way their paths had diverged only to be brought back together in such difficult emotional circumstances. Charlotte herself exhibits a curious mix of strength and flakiness, that is so representative of the insecurities that women undergo in their twenties, seeking their place in the world, and being not altogether immune to the temptations that life that throw up, She was a likeable character throughout, despite moments of exasperation with her as she wandered blindly into moments of danger. I also thought the underlying angst and the exploration of the relationship  between Danielle and her mother was incredibly well drawn, paying particular attention to the difficulties and jealousies that can place pressure on the mother and daughter bond. These parts of the narrative really gave a sense of depth to the book, as the central mystery of the reasons behind Danielle’s death became very obvious very quickly, and the emphasis on characterisation rather than the delineation of the plot itself led to a rather damp squib ending.

Always one to comment of the use of location in the book, and in this one Houston provides a smart backdrop to the book. In a recent interview Ginsburg, who was brought up in Houston but now lives elsewhere, says that she is almost re-imagining the city from her youth, and this is very evident in the book. The Houston we see through the different characters viewpoints and experience of it is a prism of the city as a whole, making it not strictly urban and not strictly rural, not completely moral, but underscored with social darkness. The city mirrors the moods and lives of the protagonists in Ginsburg’s portrayal of it, and this works incredibly well throughout, in this not altogether unsatisfying dark, violent and sexy tale. Worth a look.

Melissa Ginsburg was born and raised in Houston and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of the poetry collection Dear Weather Ghost and two poetry chapbooks, Arbor and Double Blind. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Mississippi. Sunset City is her first novel.  Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @Ginsburgmelissa

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

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